Nadav, Avihu, and the Dangers of Religious Excess

April 1 2016

In what might be the book of Leviticus’ most memorable passage—included in this week’s Torah reading—Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu bring a “a strange fire before the Lord, that He had not commanded,” during the festivities surrounding the inauguration of the desert tabernacle. They are punished with instant incineration. Jonathan Sacks explains the startling severity of the punishment:

Nadav and Avihu were “enthusiasts,” not in the contemporary sense but in the sense in which the word was used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enthusiasts were people who, full of religious passion, believed that God was inspiring them to do deeds in defiance of law and convention. They were very holy but they were also potentially very dangerous. . . .

To bring unauthorized fire to the tabernacle might seem a small offense, but a single unauthorized act in the realm of the holy causes a breach in the laws around the sacred that can grow in time to a gaping hole. Enthusiasm, harmless though it might be in some of its manifestations, can quickly become extremism, fanaticism, and religiously motivated violence. That is what happened in Europe during the wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it is happening in some religions today. . . .

Precisely because it gives rise to such intense passions, the religious life in particular needs the constraints of law and ritual, the entire intricate minuet of worship, so that the fire of faith is contained, giving light and a glimpse of the glory of God. Otherwise it can eventually become a raging inferno, spreading destruction and claiming lives.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, Jewish ritual, Judaism, Leviticus, Religion & Holidays

 

With Talk of Annexation, Benny Gantz Sends a Message to the U.S.

Jan. 24 2020

On Tuesday, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is campaigning for a third time to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from the Israeli premiership, announced that if elected he will seek to annex the Jordan Valley. He added the important caveat that he wants to do so “in coordination with the international community”—a promise that, as many have pointed out, is nearly impossible to fulfill. While it is easy to speculate about the political calculations behind this pledge, Jonathan Tobin suggests that it is also intended as a message to American liberals:

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More about: Benny Gantz, Democrats, Israeli Election 2020, Jordan Valley, U.S. Politics